"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Make Your Masonic Hall The Center of Your Community — Again

A public radio station in Wisconsin posted an article Friday that shines a light on just how important a Masonic Temple really can be in a community. They looked at two different lodge buildings, in Rhinelander and Wassau, Wisconsin. The first is still owned by the fraternity, Rhinelander Lodge 22, while the second was vacated a few years ago. Wassau insisted on not tearing theirs down, but finding someone to rescue it.

The title of the article says it all: Not so Mysterious: Past and Present Masonic Temples Build Community

"Recently we received a question asking us to investigate the history of local Masonic Temples, which led us to wonder… what is the role of a Masonic Temple in a community?
"Mackenzie Martin headed to the Rhinelander Masonic Temple and the former Wausau Masonic Temple to find out...
When I was researching Heritage Endures, I came across news accounts of the very first joint Masonic Temple that was built in my home city of Indianapolis back in 1850. At the time, what is now the largest city in my state was still being created from scratch, a planned capitol city in the middle of a clearing in the woods that otherwise wouldn't have existed naturally at the confluence of two shallow, unnavigable rivers. The Grand Lodge and the lodges in Indianapolis built our first large, joint Masonic hall here at just about the same time the state opened its new State House on the opposite corner. We picked that important location then because so many of our members were involved in the government of the state and the new capitol city. 

You could make the case that we occupied the most influential street corner in the entire state of Indiana.

The Indianapolis Masonic Temple in 1850,
as it appeared when seen from the lawn of the Indiana State House
In 1850, before we even officially moved in and opened the doors, the state's delegates to the Constitutional Convention found that they couldn't all pack into the State House along with the General Assembly at the time. So, we volunteered our brand new Temple to them for the duration of hammering out the Indiana Constitution.

It's hard to get more vital to the entire state and the community than hosting a constitutional convention. Back then, we were a center of the community before we even moved in to the joint.

Over the years, our first Temple would be the preeminent public meeting space in town. We had built the biggest and the first public hall in the city, and theatrical productions, musical events, banquets, lectures, political speeches, touring groups and private parties all poured in to the Masonic Temple. Even more poured in once the railroad came to town and East Coast road shows could easily get here. 

Even when the Odd Fellows built their own large hall down the road six years later, most folks wanted to hold their important events with the Masons. 

The home of the Freemasons was no stranger to controversy then. "No religion, no politics!" only applied in an open lodge, not to the building itself. When a local church burned down, we let their congregation hold services there on Sundays until they could rebuild. Despite the image you might have about African-American versus caucasian Freemasonry before the Civil War, when the Prince Hall-descended 'African Masons' held their first public procession in Indiana in 1855, they ended at our Masonic Hall and held their 'sumptuous banquet' there. In the 1850s, the Indianapolis Masonic Temple was the site of numerous civil rights meetings, as pro- and anti-slavery forces duked it out in the run-up to the Civil War. Anti-slavery meetings were commonplace at the Temple. 

"No political speeches in Masonic halls??!!" Balderdash. They were common as ragweed.  Abraham Lincoln came to town and spoke there in 1859, and for decades no election went by  without one candidate or another, from any party, holding a speech or debate at the Masonic Temple.

Even after our first Temple was knocked down and replaced in the 1870s by a bigger one on the same corner, the new Indiana Freemasons Hall auditorium continued to host public events, despite having lots more competition in town by then. And when our present limestone Temple was built several blocks north in 1909 (giving up our choice location), our even bigger Indiana Freemasons Hall auditorium was used for many years for civic and political meetings, speaking engagements, musical recitals, even as a popular location for swearing in newly naturalized immigrant citizens. 

During World War II, our basement was remodeled into a Masonic Service Center for traveling servicemen, similar to a USO club. Many of the larger temples in bigger towns were part of a whole nationwide network of these centers that were developed by the Masonic Service Association. The Indianapolis Masonic Temple was listed in the paper every single day as a location in the city for military personnel who wanted a place to relax, write letters, read their local papers from all over the country, catch a nap between train or bus connections, get a decent meal, play cards or pool, or go to a dance on Fridays. Even all of our youth groups and the Eastern Star ladies pitched in to help staff it. And "everybody knew" the Masons were there to help. At least they did then.

Here's more of that article by Mackenzie Martin:

Masonic Temple in Rhinelander, Wisconsin
As is the case for many small towns, the Masons were instrumental in building Rhinelander in the early days. In 1930, the town of Rhinelander raised $50,000 to build the Masonic Temple, which was a lot of money for a small town going through a depression. They are also the oldest civic group and they laid the cornerstone for the Rhinelander District Library and the Oneida County Courthouse.
Whole rooms upstairs are full of historical portraits of Rhinelander’s early masons.
“It’s a lifetime of learning,” says Jones. “You start seeing some of the street names when you look at the rolls of members here, of what they did… The school board, the telephone company… It’s almost limitless what these men came up here to do... And then when you look at all of these pictures, they came up here by wagon train or on foot or by horse drawn carriage and they built something out of the woods. And that’s where we stand today...”
 I'm not sure when Masonic lodges decided to button up and shy away from being home to big community events. By the 1950s event announcements at our own downtown Temple slowed to a trickle. I'm sure much of that was due to our failure to air-condition the place. Countless other venues around the city were far more pleasant with their new 'refrigerated air' systems, at least during the summer months. We never cushioned our wooden theater seats from 1909 that still retain their wire under-seat racks for holding hats, from the age when all proper gentlemen still covered their heads. We essentially shut the doors to our auditorium in 1963 when even our Grand Lodge moved its large annual meetings across the street into the bigger and more comfortable climes of the Scottish Rite Cathedral. I'm sure our 19th-century brethren who wore wool three-piece suits and beaver felt hats everywhere would call us pathetic, cringing little milk sop girlie-men now.

In addition, our state's Masonic code got filled up with more and more restrictions on use of lodge rooms that too many Masons believed also included the rest of their Temples. Rules were tweaked to specify what groups could and couldn't use the lodge rooms; Sunday events were banned; Masonic trustees became more and more convinced that the lodge was somehow sacrosanct or secret or both, and the public was shut out for everything but fish frys and occasional family and friend nights. 

That's a damn shame, because that's just about the very same time American Freemasonry was starting on its downward decline in size that has never stopped since. Maybe part of that can be laid at the feet of our own retreat from being vital gathering places for the community. We gave up being essential to the civic fabric of our towns, cities and states, which helped perpetuate the great tail-eating ouroboros of dwindling membership and vanishing public image.

We even went through an absurd national movement in the 1980s and 90s to remove the world temple from our buildings and replace it with generically non-specific terms like Masonic center, lest somebody get the wacky notion that anything solemn, sacred or even vaguely important might go on inside.

But some of our leaders have finally looked around and are starting to ask why we shouldn't be clawing back that vital position within our communities we occupied for so long, and can again. That seems to be the case in Wisconsin. Here's more from that article:

Giving back to the community is a huge part of what their Masonic Lodge is trying to do now, but it didn’t used to be like that. It all changed about two years ago, prompted by a decision from Wisconsin’s Grand Lodge.
“The Most Worshipful Grand Master of the State of Wisconsin sent out a note, or an edict, out to all the lodges, saying it’s time to become family-friendly again,” says Jones. “A lot of the lodges were kind of shrinking in number and so that wasn’t going out.”
“We got together and said, you know, our organization can go one of two ways,” says Bob Dionne. “We can keep doing what we’re doing and just dry up and blow away, or we can change.”
They decided to bring the Masonic Temple back to the old days of being a community building, when Prom and other events had been held in the basement. They now host community events with partners like the Rhinelander District Library in addition to weddings and other parties now. This September, they're one of four downtown Rhinelander music venues for Project North Festival.
Both of Jones and Dionne now feel like they’re using the building for the purpose it was meant to be used for, even if not everyone agrees.
“There are people who think we should maintain the integrity of what it was,” says Jones. “I like what we’re doing now because people like coming here.”
Jones also says that in a world of online interactions in an area as spread out as the Northwoods, he thinks the message of masonry to create an in-person social network for men especially resonates today...
In keeping with that newly invigorated sense of civic participation, the Rhinelander Lodge is holding a "Roots Celebration" in October that will invite local clubs and civic groups to participate and "celebrate the history" of their town. From the poster, it appears it will be a two-day event, and is exactly what every lodge needs to take a careful look at and adapt for our communities. 

Up until the last half of the 20th century, everyone in any town that contained a lodge knew who and what the Masons were and what their importance was to their community. That's been lost as society has balkanized and become isolated into tinier and tinier slices.  Nothing can or will change overnight, but this is an excellent start.

Constantine Consistory's annual Men's Health Fair in 2018
Similarly, here in my own city the local Prince Hall Scottish Rite Masons host a Men's Health Fair every year. They invite the local health, hospital and related services, and it is well supported. They do theirs at a local neighborhood center instead of their Temple (which is arguably not large enough for this fair), but there's no question that 'The Masons' are the hosts and organizers. They also provide voter registration, food vendors, and more. Local politicians are often attracted enough by this fair to show up and meet the community - something that mainstream Masons used to accomplish naturally and don't anymore. With fewer Americans out there who have an awareness of who and what we are now, the PHA guys are making sure their local community has a reason to remember "The Masons." We can all learn a good lesson from this.

And what better organization could hold an event that appeals specifically to men than Freemasons?

The rest of the Wisconsin article talks about adaptive re-use of a Masonic Temple once the Masons inside pitch it overboard. The immediate question that comes to mind is, if a private individual can make a financial go of running a large venue with big public spaces inside, why can't 50 or 100 Masons do it, keep their temple, and still make it an active money-generating space for the public? 

As the article points out, our older buildings (not the generic steel pole barns in potato fields, but the centrally located, impressive ones that we once spent a fortune to build) are still significant community centerpieces, whether Masons inhabit them or not - too significant to let them fall down. What we once looked upon with pride and worthy of our work and sacrifice, we now regard as disposable and no more significant than an abandoned Taco Bell. Fortunately, not everybody feels that way. Our communities still recognize them for the important places they are, even when we think of them as nothing but albatrosses to be put out of our collective misery:

The Temple in Wausau was sold.
In May, it opened as Whitewater Music Hall.
Meanwhile across the country, many Masonic lodges have had to downsize and move out of their temples because there are less Masons than there used to be. It’s not all bad, though. In some communities, it’s creating a new kind of community space.
For example, Minocqua Brewing Company in Minocqua used to be a Masonic Temple, and the former Masonic Temple in Wausau was recently sold and in May, it opened as Whitewater Music Hall.
One of the owners, Kelly Ballard, says the history of the building is a big part of the reason she loves it. They barely changed anything when they moved in.

“The layout is one thing,” she says. “It’s perfect as far as they have their gathering room, plus their ceremonial room serves our purposes of having a tap room and a music space.”
Ballard says Whitewater Music Hall wants to be a stage for everyone in the greater Wausau community, and she’s excited to be in a building that she thinks was overlooked for the last few years. But she also knows it’ll take some time to rebrand themselves.
“Until this first generation dies, this will always be the Masonic Temple,” she says.
She’s hoping a mural on one of the walls next year will help.
In the end, the purpose a Masonic Temple serves in the community depends on the community and the Masonic Lodge. No matter what Masonic Temple you’re in though, there’s likely a lot of history there – and a few secrets.
Take a good hard look at your own city, town or village, and think hard about what sort of role your Temple could be playing there. Who needs to build a new "neighborhood center" when the Masons did it a century ago, and it's still there waiting to be re-discovered? Make your Temple the place where volunteers teach English lessons to immigrants, or the Kiwanis and the Optimists meet. Offer it up to Weight Watchers, Al-Anon, an "opioid addiction support group," a daycare center, a computer skills learning center, or what YOUR community is in need of. 

This isn't a plan that a grand lodge needs to invent for you. All Freemasonry is local. Be part of the larger civic solution, the way we used to be all along. 

And become indispensable to your own neighbors... all over again.

Illus. James D. Cole Elected As New Grand Commander for AASR-SJ

Congratulations to Illustrious James D. Cole, 33°of Richmond, Virginia, the newly elected Grand Commander of the Supreme Council of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction

Grand Commander Cole was just elected today at the AASR-SJ Biennial Session being held at the Capital Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC. He now takes on the position from retiring, now-Past Grand Commander Illus. Ronald A, Seale, 33°, who served in this position for 16 years, since October of 2003.

GC Cole served as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Virginia in 2001. For many years he has been the CEO for the Masonic Home of Virginia in Richmond. Formerly controller of the Virginia Tech Foundation, he held several administrative positions at Virginia Tech following his tenure with an international accounting firm. His 30 years of experience with nonprofits and businesses includes roles as auditor, founder, officer and director of numerous organizations. He is also a licensed life insurance agent and holds two degrees from Virginia Tech.

Prior to this most recent honor and position, he was serving as both the Lieutenant Grand Commander of the Supreme Council and as the Sovereign Grand Inspector General in Virginia. 
Illus. Brother Cole's Masonic career appears on the Portsmouth Valley Scottish Rite's website:
Brother Cole was raised a Master Mason in 1983, in Craighill Lodge No. 160, serving as its Worshipful Master in 1987. His past Masonic service includes serving as District Deputy Grand Master, District Educational Officer and as Chairman of the Grand Lodge Committee on Finance.
Brother Cole is a member of the Valley of Roanoke, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite and was coroneted 33° Inspector General Honorary in October, 2001. He is a member of Blacksburg Royal Arch Chapter No. 65, Blacksburg Commandery No. 32, the Fort Lee-Richmond Camp No. 72 of the National Sojourners, Kazim Temple, A.A.O.N.M.S., Saint Thomas Conclave, Knights of the Red Cross, Wilderness Road York Rite College, and a 9th Grade member of the Masonic Societas Rosicruciana. He has been elected to honorary membership in several Virginia lodges. His current roles include: Grand Representative to the Grand Lodge of North Carolina; the board of directors of the Scottish Rite Research Society; the Code Commission for the Grand Lodge of Virginia; the Virginia Rainbow for Girls Scholarship Committee; the advisory board of the Virginia DeMolay Foundation and as a charter advisor for the Hanging Rock Chapter of DeMolay.
He has received high honors from each of the Masonic Youth organizations, including an Honorary Membership on the International Council of DeMolay and its Legion of Honor award; the Grand Cross of Color from the Rainbow for Girls and Honorary Membership on the Job’s Daughters Grand Guardian Council of Virginia. On April 1, 2003, he received the Pierpont Edwards medal from the Grand Lodge of Connecticut for outstanding Masonic Service. On November 5, 2004, he received the George Washington Distinguished Service Award from the Grand Lodge of Virginia. In 2006, he was commissioned an honorary Kentucky Colonel by the Governor of Kentucky. On November 10, 2006, he received the Odie R. Howell Leadership Award from the Virginia DeMolay Foundation.
On November 14, 2000 he was elected and installed as the 156th Grand Master of Masons in Virginia. On January 1, 2003, he was appointed Deputy of the Supreme Council, in Virginia and on October 7, 2003, was crowned an active member of the Supreme Council, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction, USA. He was appointed Grand Treasurer General of the Supreme Council in October, 2006 and was elected Lieutenant Grand Commander in August 2013.
Illustrious Brother Cole was born in Asheville, North Carolina, on March 3, 1958 and moved with his parents to Shawsville, Virginia, in 1969, where he and his wife, Mary Ann, now reside.
They have a daughter and a son. Professionally, he is a CPA, having worked in public accounting and later in various administrative positions at Virginia Tech for almost twenty years. He holds both a Bachelor’s and a Masters degree from Virginia Tech. He is currently employed as the Chief Executive Officer for the Masonic Home of Virginia.
Brother Cole has been active in community and church service, including service as an Adult Bible Class teacher and as an active lay speaker since age fifteen. Professionally, he has served as a consultant and advisor to numerous companies, universities and non-profit organizations throughout the country. He regularly conducts workshops for Masonic and other charities and is a frequent speaker at professional conferences around the country. In his spare time he enjoys golf.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Speaking Friday 8/16 at W. Lafayette, Indiana High Twelve

I'll be speaking this Friday, August 16th, at the Lafayette High Twelve Club lunch meeting at the MCL Cafeteria, 521 Sagamore Parkway West, West Lafayette, Indiana. 

I'll be presenting a Power Point talk, "In Search of the Lost Grand Master - Alexander Buckner" about the Grand Lodge of Indiana's founding Grand Master in 1818, his hasty departure from the state, and how he also became important to Missouri Freemasonry by founding a new Indiana lodge by the Mississippi River.

The meeting begins at noon.
If you haven't a clue what a High Twelve Club is, High Twelve International got its start in Sioux City, Iowa in 1920. Its founder, Edgar C. Wolcott was, at the time, General Secretary of the local YMCA in Sioux City. He felt very strongly that members of the Masonic fraternity were in need of additional fellowship they weren't getting in the lodge room. So he cooked up the notion of local clubs of Master Masons who met informally over their lunch hours, broke bread together, shared fellowship with Masons who weren't all from the same lodge, had a speaker or presentation, and maybe raised a little money.

Today, there are approximately 4,000 members in 150 clubs nationwide and in foreign countries. If you haven't got one near you, they are easy to start. Visit their website for information.

And if you're in the area around Lafayette and Purdue University, drop in and have lunch.

I'll leave it to the assembled crowd to decide whether my presentation is an appropriate use of a wind instrument or not.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Onetime Home of Manly P. Hall For Sale Again

After two major, multi-million dollar restorations in twenty years, Frank Lloyd Wright's historic Los Angeles Ennis House is once again up for sale. It's been quietly listed since last year for $23 million. 

If it looks familiar, you've probably seen the house in movies like The House on Haunted Hill, BladerunnerThe Rocketeer, Game of Thrones, and many more. It's hard to miss its iconic cast cement block pattern pillars and door frames, and its pseudo-Mayan temple silhouette. In the architecture realm, it is considered the finest "Mayan-revival" style building anywhere, although I'm guessing you can count the number of 20th century, pre-Cancun resort "Mayan-revival" buildings on one hand.

What you may not know is that the Ennis House was briefly the home of famed esoteric author Manly P. Hall.

The original owners who commissioned the home were Charles Ennis and his wife Mabel. Charles was originally from Pittsburgh, and relocated to LA to open a clothing store.

Ennis was a Freemason, and some have squinted at the concrete block design and seen a Masonic square and compasses in it.

Brother Ennis only lived in the house for four years after it was completed. He was also a Knight Templar, and when he died in 1929 his funeral service was conducted in the living room by Los Angeles Commandery No. 9.

For a detailed telling of the Ennis House story, see LA Magazine: House on Haunted Hill from 2006. That article briefly mentions Manly P. Hall's time in the house:
Founder of the Philosophical Research Society on Los Feliz Boulevard, author of The Secret Teachings of All Ages (a history of esoterica), and a spellbinding speaker, Hall was one of Los Angeles’s most charismatic figures of the 1930s. Although he worried about the leaks (“water gathered in the zigzags of the blocks,” he later recalled), he did nothing to stop them. For him, the house was a stage set for an outsize life. Using the glass-tile fireplace as a backdrop, he set up an ornate lacquered Buddhist shrine and held court for an array of seekers and celebrities.
Manly P. Hall in the 1930s in front of
the Ennis House fireplace and his
Buddhist shrine.
Throughout the 1930s, Manly Hall and his wife Fay had been just one of several groups of high-visibility 'personalities' who had been invited to live rent-free in the two bedroom house. Living inside a quirky work of art isn't the easiest thing to contend with. Despite its deliberately massive feel and appearance, on the inside it's more of a two-bedroom bungalow than a sprawling mansion. 

In reality, the house is spectacularly impractical from a daily living point of view. As built, it had a Tiffany mosaic fireplace without an actual flue, the grand entrance sits underneath the fairly small kitchen, and the place was infested with bees on a regular basis. After the usual round of spring rains in LA, the lower level would be soaked with two feet of standing water. 

The house was nevertheless an appropriately theatrical setting that suited Hall's public persona as a celebrity philosopher/mystic/esotericist, but even he got fed up with it and soon moved out. Not long afterwards, Hall's wife Fay committed suicide in 1941.

Here is usually when I step in and mention that all of Manly P. Hall's metaphysical writings about Freemasonry were written in his younger days, and that once he actually joined the fraternity in the 1950s (late in his career and life), he never wrote another word about it. His Secret Teachings of All Ages is a magnificent book, but most of his Masonic writings should not be considered as anything but speculative, and are considered more than a little fabulist by most modern Masonic researchers. 

After one expensive restoration following damage from the 1997 Northridge Earthquake, in 2011 the Ennis House was again sold for just $4.5 million to billionaire investor Ron Burkle, who poured another $17 million into its restoration. The former supermarket magnate seems to have an adoration (or masochistic tendency) for rehabilitating significant houses that are too expensive and bothersome for others. He also bought Bob Hope's Toluca Lake house for $15 million, and that comic's amazing Palm Springs house for $13 million.

The Ennis House is problematic, and always has been. Even Brother Charles Ennis, the original owner, said of it when asked about what it was like to live in such a spectacular work of the architect's art, "It leaks." After Ennis' death, the architect would occasionally show up unannounced and stomp through the house, bitching about any cosmetic changes made to it.

It sits in an isolated hilltop neighborhood in Los Angeles off a twisting road on just a half acre with miserable parking, making it useless as a museum or public venue of any kind. That's a real shame, because as CurbedLA.com, said of the house in 2011, 
"While we're sure Ennis would be a great place to live, it might also make a really perfect Masonic Hall--the pattern on the Ennis' textile blocks is "perhaps an allusion to the Masonic Order, of which *[Charles Ennis, who commissioned the house,] was a member, and the organization's symbol, the compass with the letter 'g' in the middle representing God."
It would indeed make a breathtaking Masonic lodge, if only the neighbors didn't caterwaul any time more than three cars show up. Imagine the festive boards in the dining room. 

"Gather round the festive board!"
Would that we still had among our members the eccentric millionaires who loved the Craft enough to bankroll such projects for us, or donate their estates to us once they shuffle off to join The Great Majority so the fraternity would have impressive clubhouses, instead of anonymous steel pole barns in bean fields built on the cheap.


Of course, in my 30s I secretly wanted the Ennis House to become the location of the never-built Forest J. Ackerman Science Fiction Museum, who lived nearby in the very same Los Feliz neighborhood, and whose vast and irreplaceable collection was all auctioned away before and after his death. 

Ah, what might have been. Masonic Lodge or the world's greatest science fiction museum. Tough call.

(All photos from CurbedLA.com)

Monday, August 12, 2019

'What Treasures Does Your Lodge Hold?'

This little essay was posted on the Grand Lodge of Mississippi's Facebook page from WB Rick Clifton, Past Master of Bay Springs Lodge 167:
What Treasures Does Your Lodge Hold?
When Minute Books of fifty of the oldest American Lodges as of the period between 1800 and 1825 are compared with the Minute Books of the same Lodges as of the period 1900 to 1925 it will be discovered that the subject of the Lodge inventory was somewhere lost, abandoned, forgotten in the years between. Every so often in the early days a Secretary, with loving care, and often with an openly expressed pride, wrote out his inventory; and such inventories are for us now one of the best sources for a knowledge of what Lodge life was a century and a half ago. Those inventories coincidentally make vivid and clear one thing wrong with Lodge life now— something lost out of Masonry, like the Lost Word, an old Landmark unintentionally violated; a thing lost though not necessarily beyond recall.

The inventory was not of the carpets, walls, windows, or other structural equipment, nor was it for real estate or taxation or fire insurance purposes; it was an inventory of the treasures of the Lodge. In almost every instance each item was described as a gift from some Brother, or as a memento of some occasion long remembered; there were oil portraits, framed prints, photographs; jewels kept in cases, of silver, and engraved, once the property of officers who later had presented them to the Lodge; aprons, collars, ballot boxes, gavels, Bibles and books, music books, an organ, sets of plate, glass and dishes, altar coverings, certificates, cherished letters in frames, punch bowls There were gifts which the Lodge had made to itself, such as hand-made carved chairs for the officers or a visitors' book bound in morocco. The Lodge Room had a feeling of being richly furnished; it was filled with the emblems and symbols of Freemasonry, of the Lodge's own past, of the community's esteem for it, and that the members who had gone were not completely gone.

Men loved their Lodge, and because they did there was no need to devise schemes for persuading them to attend.

In every Lodge, even the crassest, there are these untapped feelings of affection. Each one should have an inventory. When a Lodge room is empty, its walls bare, it has no atmosphere of its own. It does not feel like home. The Ritual loses its soul because it has not the environment it requires.

The worst effect of the bare Lodge room is that its Masonry in turn becomes barren because the Lodge has only the sense of being in a room and does not have a sense of being in the midst of a living and moving Fraternity; nor can it have a sense of its own past, or the Fraternity's past, but sinks into a feeling of isolation and flatness—it cannot even have a banquet because it has nothing to have it with. The inventory was one of riches; the riches came not out of the members' dues but out of their affection.
Rick Clifton, PM
Bay Springs #167

WB Clifton's thoughtful piece echoes a passage that H. L. Haywood wrote in his 1948 book 'More About Masonry,' and it can't be over-stated:
"In the Eighteenth Century Lodges the Feast bulked so large in the lodge that in many of them the members were seated at the table when the lodges were opened and remained at it throughout the Communication, even when the degrees were conferred. The result was that Masonic fellowship was good fellowship in it, as in a warm and fruitful soil, acquaintanceship, friendship, and affection could flourish - there was no grim and silent sitting on a bench, staring across at a wall. Out of this festal spirit flowered the love which Masons had for their lodge. They brought gifts to it, and only by reading of old inventories can any present day Mason measure the extent of that love; there were gifts of chairs, tables, altars, pedestals, tapestries, draperies, silver, candle-sticks, oil paintings, libraries, Bibles, mementos, curios, regalia’s and portraits. The lodge was a home, warm, comfortable, luxurious, full of memories, and tokens, and affection, and even if a member died his, presence was never wholly absent; to such a lodge no member went grudgingly, nor had to be coaxed, nor was moved by that ghastly, cold thing called a sense of duty, but went as if drawn by a magnet, and counted the days until he could go.
"What business has any lodge to be nothing but a machine for grinding out the work: It was not called into existence in order to have the minutes read: Even a mystic tie will snap under the strain of cheerlessness, repetition, monotony, dullness. A lodge needs a fire lighted in it, and the only way to have that warmth is to restore the lodge Feast, because when it is restored, good fellowship and brotherly love will follow, and where good fellowship is, members will fill up an empty room not only with themselves but also with their gifts."
What business, indeed... 

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Education: MSA Short Talk Bulletin Podcasts Online

Every month for almost a full century now, the Masonic Service Association of North America has published The Short Talk Bulletin, an informative, chatty discussion of some aspect of Freemasonry, be it ritual, symbols, allegories, history, individuals, lodge operation or practical applications, culture, and more. Over the years they were written by some of the wisest noggins in the Craft. 

The STB is sent every month to all lodges of the constituent Grand Lodges that comprise the MSA, and are intended to be read in every single lodge. When your Secretary holds it up every month, waves it in the air, and blandly mutters, "The Short Talk Bulletin is up here on my desk if anybody wants to look at it," don't just sit there. Somebody go up and read it aloud, because that's what it's there for. It's a ready-made little hunk of Masonic education for YOUR lodge that takes no effort to impart to your members besides about 10 minutes of reading out loud.

Aw, who am I kidding? 

Few of you will actually do that. "Who reads brochures anyway?" goes the churlish Mason now. "Modern Men (insert registered trademark symbol here) are too impatient to sit here and listen to somebody talk for ten minutes." Possibly true, I suppose. But then those same men will walk to the parking lot, get in their cars, and on the drive home they'll listen to their favorite podcast of someone blathering away for 10, 15, 30, 60 and more minutes. Some will even sit parked in the garage when they get home just to listen to the end.

Michael A. Smith
The MSA has answered the call. Since March, they have presenting a past Short Talk Bulletin in an audible version as a podcast or downloadable audio file twice every week. It can also be found on iTunes. So far, each has been read by Brother Michael A. Smith from Maine, who is also an audio book producer in real life when he isn't playing with Masons. The Bulletins are currently being released at the rate of twice a week, so there's a substantial list already. And there are quite literally hundreds more already written where they came from. The bi-weekly podcasts are made possible by a grant from the Grand Lodge of Maine A. F. & A. M.

This week I had the honor of narrating a relatively recent STB about the Grand Lodge of Nebraska's important decision this year to again raise their Masonic proficiency standards, bucking the national stampede to make Masonry simpler and painless for "Modern Man®" (whoever that is). Nebraska figured out that by reducing proficiency standards for new members many years ago, dumping memorization overboard, essentially making personal mentors obsolete, and creating a culture of dread for ritual, they have done more harm to the fraternity in their state than good. 

I didn't write this STB, but I absolutely agree with its message and Nebraska's bold move to stand athwart conventional grand lodge wisdom and holler "HALT!" 

If you didn't read this STB when it came out in the spring, click the link below, sit back for a few minutes, and listen to the dulcet tones of a Dummy soothe you into absently drifting into the next lane. Do it when you leave the lodge and you shouldn't even have to sit in the garage to hear the end.

By the way, the MSA has also collected all of the STBs created between 1923 and 2017 into a series of six freshly typeset, edited, indexed, hardbound volumes that you can use for research, or just as intended from the start as education pieces. Each volume is a goldmine, and you can literally walk into your lodge, open it to any page and start reading it aloud. 

Who says basic Masonic Education has to be more complicated than that?

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Detroit Hosts 2019 Masonic Library & Museum Association Conference: 9/20-22

The Masonic Library & Museum Association was founded in 1995. Its ongoing mission is
“to assist and support, through education, facilitation of communication, coordination of effort, and other means, those individuals charged with the collection, management, and preservation of the Masonic heritage.” Its members range from trained museum and library professionals to dedicated members of the fraternity who work voluntarily and have all different levels of experience. Membership in the MLMA is open to any person who expresses an interest in Masonic libraries or museums. Institutional membership is open to any Masonic body considered “regular” by most Grand Lodges in the United States.

The Detroit Masonic Temple Library, Archive, and Research Center is hosting the 2019 Masonic Library and Museum Association Conference. The center is located in the breathtaking Detroit Masonic Temple, 500 Temple Street, Detroit, Michigan. The Detroit Temple is the largest building 
in the world dedicated to the Masonic fraternity.

Participants will enjoy two days of excellent presentations, and unparalleled networking and fellowship.

Masons and non-Masons alike are welcome to attend.


Friday, September 20th
  • 12:00 pm: Finger lunch 
  • 12:30 Brian Rountree, President, Masonic Library and Museum Association: Welcome/Introductions
  • 1:00: Rob Moore, Executive Director, Detroit Masonic Temple Library, Archive, and Research Center 
  • 1:30: Dirk Hughes, Director, Michigan Masonic Museum and Library 
  • 2:15: Mark Tabbert, Director of Museum and Library Collections, George Washington Masonic National Memorial: "George Washington and Freemasonry "
  • 3:00 Library Service Work
  • 6:00 Dinner

Saturday, September 21st
  • 9:00 am: Coffee/light refreshments 
  • 9:30-11:30: Detroit Masonic Temple tour 
  • 11:30-1:00: Lunch on your own
  • 1:00: Glenn Visscher, Museum of Masonic Culture, Trenton NJ: "Building and Developing a Masonic Museum "
  • 1:30: Maureen Harper, Collections Manager, Scottish Rite Museum and Library: "Packing Artifacts for Shipment "
  • 2:00: Thomas Hauder, Past Grand Master, Grand Lodge of Nebraska, A:. F:. & A:. M:. "Freemasonry and the Roman Catholic Church "
  • 3:00: Christiano Franceschini, Museo Simbologia Massonica, Firenze, Italy: "Freemasonry in Italy "
  • 4:30: Visit Burton Historical Collection
  • 6:00: Dinner on your own 

Sunday, September 22nd
  • Optional Library Service Work 

Registration includes attendance of the entire program and dinner on Friday evening. Tickets for this event are priced at $75. But if you take advantage of their Early Bird rate, it is just $55 per person through August 20th. The cutoff for general registration is September 8th ($90 after that).

To make reservations, visit the Eventbrite page HERE.


A block of rooms has been reserved at Motor City Casino Hotel (2901 Grand River), a short distance from the Temple. Register by calling 1-866-STAY-MCC and mention the Detroit Masonic Temple Library block or go to this link:



Contact Rob Moore at 248-863-8008 or dmtdocents@gmail.com

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Masonic Chair From Famous Truman Visit Destroyed in Beech Grove Lodge Fire

President Harry S Truman visiting Beech Grove Lodge in 1948
As reported last month, a fire broke out  on July 8th in the East of Beech Grove Lodge No. 694 on Indianapolis' south side. The blaze and subsequent damage destroyed the lodge room and its furnishings. The rest of the 1943 building sustained extensive damage as well. 

Beech Grove Lodge became an important part of Masonic history in 1948 when Freemason, Missouri Past Grand Master and President Harry S Truman famously snuck away from the press during a campaign stopover in Indianapolis to attend a Master Mason degree. Donald Bauermeister, a young sailor from Indiana who was his physical therapist on board the Presidential Yacht back in Washington, was being raised that evening, and Truman suddenly informed his staff that he intended to be there, sending the Presidential party and Secret Service detail into an organizational tailspin.

Sadly, the brethren of Beech Grove Lodge have reported that the three-seated Worshipful Master's station chair that President Harry S Truman occupied during his "secret" trip to the lodge in 1948 was damaged far beyond repair in last month's tragic fire. They will explore the possibility that a small memento can be made of the surviving pieces.

The 2nd floor has been gutted and demolition has begun on the main floor. A decision will soon be made on how many, if not all, of the joists for the roof will need to be replaced. The stone and block exterior of the temple survived the fire and will be retained in the rebuilding efforts.

Most of the paper records of the lodge survived the fire, but were heavily smoke damaged and waterlogged. However, the Masonic ring given to Don Bauermeister by his parents and handed to him by Harry Truman himself, along with his Masonic Bible signed by the President are still safely on display at the Masonic Library and Museum of Indiana, located in the Indianapolis Masonic Temple.

Details about Truman's visit to Beech Grove Lodge in 1948 can be found in Dwight L. Smith's Goodly Heritage (1968), Allen E. Roberts' Brother Truman (1985), and most recently in my own book, Heritage Endures (2018).

UPDATE 8/9/2019:

At the Indiana Masonic Home at Compass Park in Franklin today, Grand Master Kenneth Roy, Jr. presented Beech Grove Lodge's Master WB Kevin Upshaw with their new charter to replace the one lost in the fire.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Masonic Museum Is A Snapshot of Spain's Anti-Masonic Past

While many Masons today have at least a passing familiarity with the persecution of the fraternity under the Nazi regime, far less is widely known about similar actions under Spain's long-ruling dictator, Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde. The Spanish Civil War (often called the dress rehearsal for World War II) raged between 1936 and 1939, resulting in Franco and his Nationalist Party's ascendency to power. The two big name fascist dictators of the period, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, both fell in 1945. But Franco ruled in Spain all the way through his death in 1975.

Under Franco and his (largely Catholic) Nationalists, Freemasonry was outlawed, and Masons were often arrested solely for their membership. In the wake of Franco’s victory in the civil war, many Freemasons, some of them well-known figures, were either exiled, imprisoned or, in some cases, shot. As was done throughout Europe under the Nazi occupation forces, Franco's regime seized the property of Masonic lodges throughout Spain and occasionally set up spooky museums of Masonic artifacts as propaganda exhibits to frighten the population. In a way, you can blame some of the modern day European distrust of Freemasonry on generational fears first stoked by these attempted exposés under the fascist regimes in the 1930s and 40s.

Franco spared no expense in stamping out Freemasonry in Spain. In 1949 the Spanish government included nearly $100,000 in its budget for ongoing maintenance of a special tribunal to suppress Masonry.

The Generalissimo never tempered his anti-Masonic sentiments. Henderson and Pope's book Freemasonry Universal claims that under Franco's almost 40 years in office, more than 10,000 Freemasons were arrested for their alleged membership, and the Grand Orient of Spain went into exile in Mexico. Even in his final speech before his death in 1975 given from (where else do dictators speak from?) the balcony of his Royal Palace, Franco railed against the imaginary "Jewish-Masonic Conspiracy". 

After Franco died, Spain finally began a slow transition to democracy, but it wasn't until 1979 that the laws against Freemasons were lifted - and only then after their High Court overruled the Interior Ministry’s ongoing refusal to allow Masons to again organize.

A Masonic lodge in Gijon, Spain was plundered by the Spanish Nationalists in 1938, and a propaganda museum was created that year to display its symbols and artifacts in the creepiest manner possible. The exhibit was created by Marcelino de Ulibarri, a member of Franco’s government with the intention of frightening the public with the "dangers" of Masonry. But according to an article on the Atlas Obscura website, the museum was never officially opened during the war. It wasn’t until 1993 that it finally opened to the public as a part of a historical exhibition in the town of Salamanca’s Barrio Antiguo district, housed in a 17th-century building at Saint Ambrose College.

Chamber of Reflection at the Salamanca museum exhibit
From the article:

On display in the temple, you’ll find books, medals, jewelry, documents, ceremonial clothing, Masonic symbols, and a reproduction of a Masonic Chamber of Reflection used by new members. The most shocking details, such as skulls or black masks, received special attention with the aim of shocking the public of the 1930s. Today they look like your usual Halloween decoration.
Ulibarri made sure to include any spooky imagery he could dig up, populated it with black-hooded mannequins and skulls, and prominently displayed an apron showing a severed head.

It is of interest to Masons today in part because of this dark episode of persecution across Europe. But it is also a unique snapshot of Spanish Freemasonry from the pre-1940 era, as long as you bear in mind the sensationalistic nature of the way it's presented. 

The Masonic Lodge Museum today is located inside the National Archives building in Salamanca, Spain at 2 Gibralter in the Barrio Antiguo.  

There's a great story about Franco and American Freemasons that happened in the 1950s. This was in an article from the Spanish El Pais website called "Why did General Franco hate the Freemasons so much?":

Fall 1958, the Pardo Palace in the outskirts of Madrid: Franco’s official residence. Two US senators, along with a high-ranking military man, are received by Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Their mission is to sound out the dictator about a possible visit by the then president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower. What kind of reception would he get? Franco is delighted at the prospect, and begins expanding on the need to eradicate once and for all the Communist threat, and is willing to help the United States in its fight against the Soviet Union, hoping to win the support of the West in the process – after all, it had only been admitted to the United Nations in December 1955.
Carried away in his euphoria, Franco also declares that freemasonry must also be done away with. At which point, one of the senators politely interrupts: “Sir, President Eisenhower is a protestant, I’m a mason, and my colleague here in the Senate is Jewish. We would all be in jail if we lived in Spain.” The military man, Eugene Vidal, an old-school Yankee blueblood and head of aeronautics at West Point military academy, drove home the point with a certain degree of sarcasm: “No, no my dear sir, I’m also a mason and I too would be shot here.” The story of the meeting was told many years later by US writer Gore Vidal, the son of Eugene Vidal and the grandson of another US senator, Thomas P. Gore...
Freemasonry has slowly recovered in Spain. The Gran Logia de España today is widely recognized as regular throughout the Masonic world, and has about 2,700 members and 185 lodges.

(All Museum photos from the Atlas Obscura site)